A good massage can be much more than just a relaxing treat. Research shows that a number of massage therapies can be used to alleviate various types of pain (such as headache, backache and knee pain), relieve chronic tension and boost immunity.

What you should know about the four most popular types of massage…


Swedish massage uses a variety of movements, such as long, sweeping strokes as well as kneading strokes over muscles, to help move blood through the body. This increases circulation and gently reduces muscle tension.

Best used for: Mild insomnia, headache, anxiety, stress and muscle tension.


Shiatsu—Japanese for "finger pressure"—uses acupressure points along pathways in the body (meridians) to move a form of energy known as "qi" (pronounced "chee"). Shiatsu aims to prevent disease with consistent and fluid movements that open channels of energy. Some massage therapists use their elbows, knees and feet in addition to thumb pressure, which may be very light or strong and deep.

Best used for: Headache, insomnia, low back pain, postoperative pain relief and depleted energy.


Musculoskeletal pain occurs when a joint, muscle, tendon (tough bundle of fibers that attaches muscle to bone) or ligament (connective tissue that joins two bones at a joint) becomes swollen, inflamed and/or torn.

Even seemingly harmless activities, such as sleeping in an awkward position, bending in an unusual way or sitting at a computer for long periods, can cause the damage.

With orthopedic massage, a therapist uses his/her hands or fingers to end this pain-causing cycle by focusing on adhesive scar tissue that forms in response to the initial damage. Orthopedic massage can be mildly uncomfortable but should not be painful.

Best used for: Low back pain, knee pain, and strained muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Myofascial Release

The fascia is a connective tissue that surrounds muscles, joints, nerves, blood vessels and internal organs. Ordinarily relaxed and pliable, fasciae develop adhesive scar tissue after an injury and become a source of tension.

Myofascial release (also known as deep-tissue work) involves a combination of deep and gentle pressure designed to affect not only the deeper structures of the musculoskeletal system, such as the spine and joints, but also the skin and muscles. To apply the desired pressure, the therapist may use his fingertips, knuckles or elbows.

Best used for: Fatigue, stiffness, recovery from a fall or accident and/or pain from chronic poor posture.

Massage—What You Need to Know

Body massage is available at many health clubs and spas as well as medical centers and hospitals. Most massages last 30 to 60 minutes with prices ranging from about $50 to $150 per hour. Health insurance may cover massage therapy with a doctor's referral.

  • Massage is generally considered safe for most people. However, massage should be avoided by people who have deep vein thrombosis, bleeding disorders, fever, varicose veins, osteoporosis, a recent fracture, open wounds or who have had recent surgery (unless approved by a physician)

Until recently, many medical experts warned cancer patients to avoid massage for fear of stimulating growth or spread of a malignancy. Now, this belief has been debunked and massage is generally considered safe for cancer patients, who often experience energy-boosting and/or stress-relieving benefits, but check with a doctor first. In some cases, it can damage tissue that is fragile due to radiation treatments and/or chemotherapy.

  • When selecting a massage therapist, choose someone who is licensed by his/her municipality or state and certified by a national certifying agency. These qualifications will ensure that the practitioner has at least 500 hours of training. You can also seek a referral from the American Massage Therapy Association, 877-905-2700, www.amtamassage.org...or the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, 800-458-2267, www.abmp.com.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in